San Andreas12A ¦ Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD
Back in the seventies there was a veritable avalanche of disaster films, many of which went on to become classics of the genre (Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno).
Since then, the genre appears to have run aground, having mostly been adopted by the Syfy channel, where you can often find a number of outrageously bad made-for-TV titles, including the likes of the tragic Sharknado franchise. Big screen outings however, are harder to come by.
San Andreas, starring the bulky Dwayne Johnson, is an attempt to bring the disaster film bang up to date, but by rejecting a number of the genre's ground rules, does it manage to stand on its own two terra firma feet?
There's only one thing cooler than saving peoples' lives for a living, and that's saving them in a helicopter. Ray Gaines (Johnson) does just that, heading up a crew for the LA Fire Dept. Air Rescue squad.
He's not quite prepared for what's about to happen to him; it's news that his divorce from Emma (Carla Gugino) is not only now final, but that she's also moving in with her new, successful boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Even though Ray's pretty macho, you can tell it's as if his entire world is about to swallow him up. In other news, his entire world is about to swallow him - and everyone else - up. The irony.
According to seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), they have now created a way of predicting earthquakes, just as a huge one hits the Hoover Dam, which apparently he didn't see coming until it was too late. An even bigger one is due however, and it's going to disturb the infamous San Andreas Fault line that runs through California. At its centre will be San Francisco, which is exactly where Ray and Emma's daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) just arrives.
With all around him crumbling to the ground, Ray has to put his life-saving skills to good use if he and his family have any chance of surviving.
On the surface at least, it looks like San Andreas ticks a lot of the 'must have' boxes for a typical disaster film. On closer inspection however, director Brad Peyton ignores fundamental elements in favour of a more disappointingly generic storyline.
Disaster films are all about scale; not just in terms of a destructive force, but on the impact it has on a number of lives. There are usually a large number of characters whose fate is precariously hanging in the balance; directors often keep audiences guessing as to which may have a chance to survive, or at the very least, in which order they will be offed.
Peyton decides that the central - and only - focus for this film is the insular world of Ray; for someone who spends his career saving the lives of others, as soon as there's a real emergency, Ray only cares about the well being of his soon-to-be ex and daughter. This circle of care is only ever slightly extended to include Brit Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), whose paths happen to cross his daughter's in San Francisco.
it's understandable that he cares so strongly about his family, but this self-centredness doesn't lend itself well to a supposed heroic figure. It's clear that this event is affecting a vast number of people, but they are literally just there to be swallowed up by the scenery.
It doesn't help that the script is a disaster all of its own. With a screenplay written by Carlton Cuse, who some may recall was an executive producer on Lost, Cuse displays here why he's a better producer than writer, with some truly cringing dialogue throughout.
What just about makes it worth watching however are some pleasing special effects. The city's yielding to the quake is visually impressive. However, after the initial helicopter scenes at the start of the film, the 3D element becomes increasingly subtle to the point where they make very little impact at all.
Johnson, despite being given far too much to do emotionally for such a project with his limited range, does manage to cement his position as a competent action hero, which will no doubt hold him in good stead for the future.
As far as leaving its mark on the disaster genre, San Andreas would struggle to score highly on the Richter scale, offering more of a gentle shake than a quake.